Thoughts on Theses: Anna Buswell

Anna Buswell is a music and psychology double major who is writing a thesis in each department. Her psychology thesis examines how children evaluate other people, and her music thesis delves into Christian passion music.

Thoughts on Theses: Anna Buswell
Photo courtesy of Anna Buswell '23.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

A: I’m a senior at Amherst College. I’m majoring in psych and music, which are very separate. I’ve been asked if I’m doing [my majors] together, but they are not overlapping. I am on the frisbee team. I’ve also been taking piano lessons — I’ve been taking piano lessons for 15 years now. I’m also half-Taiwanese; my mom’s from Taiwan.

Q: So you’re writing two theses. What are they about?

A: For psych, basically I was here over the summer doing thesis research. I was showing slideshows to kids ages four and five. Just pictures or videos with puppets that would be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to equally give three things to this person and three things to this person.’ Or it would be unequal, with one thing versus five things. And we were asking, ‘Do you think this is a nice puppet? Do you think they’re going to continue to be nice?’ And similar things like, ‘Do you think this is a smart puppet? Do you think that they will continue to be intelligent?’ [The purpose of the project was to see] how they evaluate others based on their actions versus their appearance, and how they predict that going forward. It’s an interesting new study because we’re giving the kids anonymity. We’re having them make their decision while we close our eyes because, theoretically, they have on rosy-colored glasses, where they’re like, ‘Everyone’s super nice. Everyone’s super smart.’ But if we let them make that decision on their own, we’re seeing if it is an innate thing or if it’s social pressure that makes them that way.

My music thesis is on passion music, which is basically the stuff they play at Easter time. It’s about the crucifixion in Christianity, basically telling the story of [Jesus] and how it’s beneficial to Christians. What I’ve been doing is just going through and getting an overview of passion music and seeing how Jesus is portrayed in the music versus how he’s been portrayed through history and in words and art.

Q: How did you land on these topics?

A: For psych, I knew I wanted to do a thesis from the very beginning. I will be honest and say I came [into college] with the idea that I was probably going to [study] math and history, and that has clearly not come to any kind of fruition. But when I took “Intro [to] Psych[ology]” I was like, ‘Wow, I love this.’ So I decided to be a psych major. I had to declare relatively early because I went abroad last year. I knew I wanted to do a thesis for psych, and I knew I wanted to do it in child development, so [Associate] Professor [of Psychology Carrie] Palmquist was my first choice [for an advisor]. I talked to her, and she was saying she had all these ideas for studies. She had a thesis student who was doing something similar to me without the anonymous part. And we sort of just sculpted this.

For music, I was originally thinking of doing a performance thesis. I was working at the library last summer and [Professor of Music Klara Moricz] was here, and she happened to come in and say, ‘Oh my goodness, when you come back from being abroad you have to tell me what you wanna write your thesis on with me!’ While I was abroad I didn’t do that much with music, but I got more into it in the third trimester. I had taken this old music course with [Moricz] where we focused on passion music, and I knew we both loved it, so I took a course on it in Oxford which they specifically designed for me. So that’s how that ended up happening.

Q: How have your advisors helped you throughout the thesis process?

A: I meet with them on a weekly basis. Mondays are music; Fridays are psych. I think it’s been really helpful because I know a lot of people don’t necessarily meet with their advisors that often for thesis stuff. But at least for me, every time I go to a meeting with Professor Moricz, she is so sweet. She really knows how to make people enthusiastic and inspired. So I go into meetings like ‘I have no idea where I’m going with this thesis.’ And then I come out being like, ‘Oh, yeah, now I know exactly what I need to research.’ And then for psych, I think it’s been a lot more chill because I did the research over the summer. I know where the writing is going, so I’m definitely a lot more prepared for psych right now than I am for music.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: So, the frisbee team has decided that we’re going to do 7:30 a.m. gym sessions. So that’s Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Then I get breakfast with some of the team. And I do a tutoring thing — I tutor with this program called Ringle teaching South Korean students English. A lot of the time, that’s my 9 to 10 or 10:30. And then I try to go to Arms [Music Center] to practice whenever I can, because it kind of slips my mind sometimes. [I usually have] lunch and thesis stuff in the afternoon. Then, I have class between 1 and 4. After that, I do some more thesis stuff [and] practice from 6 to 8. I think that’s about it. Oh, and I’m on season 8 of Game of Thrones right now.

Q: What would you say has been the most challenging part of writing your two theses so far?

A: Definitely how unscheduled it is. Because I’m [writing] two, I have the option of having four credits of thesis in the spring. And then I don’t necessarily have to take a class. But I think I’m going to have to take a class because I think I would go a little insane not having anything scheduled in my life. Finding motivation to read the amount that I should be reading is difficult, too.

Q: And conversely, what would you say your favorite part about the thesis process is?

A: I think the writing itself is the most fun. I decided that I wanted to be a psych major because the first time I wrote a psych research paper, like yeah, I procrastinated. But when I was doing it, in the moment, I was like, ‘Wow, this is the most fun I’ve had writing in a while.’ So that’s definitely why I wanted to do a psych thesis. For music, I think I ended up doing it because a lot of what I’m doing is history-based, and like I said, I came in thinking I might want to study history. So that’s really fun for me as well, writing about the history of passions.

Q: Looking back, what advice would you give either to a younger student or to your younger self?

A: In general, I think freshman year I spent a lot of time doing work in my room, which I guess to each their own. But I think I should have spent more time doing work outside my room just in terms of how many more people I could have met while working and how many more resources I could have gotten from the library. I started doing work in the [Morgan] Music Library which is really nice.

In terms of thesis writing, I had a meeting with one of the reference librarians and she showed me all these cool things on the Frost website and on online library websites which are really useful. [I] would highly recommend that. And I’ve been struggling to do this, but getting your thesis advisor whatever you’ve been working on the night before your meeting — and not during your meeting — is really helpful because they can actually give you feedback when you’re together. That has definitely been really useful as well.

Q: What do you hope that fellow students or other readers will get out of your theses once they’re complete?

A: For psych, it would just be cool to see what other people think of in terms of future studies. To see my work referenced in another study, that would be so cool. For music, I think the number of people I have talked to that actually know what a passion is is so few. So just in terms of not even knowing what it is in a religious sense, but even just in a musical sense, because passions are gorgeous. And some of them are short enough that you don’t have to sit there for three hours. A lot of them are that long, but some of them are less than an hour, and they’re really beautiful. I had a keyboard while I was abroad that the school gave me. And at one point, I was doing some passion research. And I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this chorale is so pretty I gotta sight-read it.’ So I finally plugged my keyboard in and I sight-read it and thought to myself that everyone should hear this because it’s so pretty. And there have been hundreds of [passions]; I don’t even understand how people have that many ideas. So just letting people know they are out there would be cool.

Q: Looking forward, what do you think or hope life will look like after you graduate?

A: I am currently trying to apply for a master’s program, probably in social work, and I have to ask for recommendations and actually figure out which ones I’m applying to. But ideally I’ll end up as a therapist kind of thing. Or lower-level teaching. And then music on the side.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add or make sure that our readers know about?

A: I just think it was really funny because I went from being abroad in England where nobody double majors — so they were like ‘Oh my gosh. You can do psych and music?!’ — to here where the shock was about doing a double thesis. The amount of the ‘you’re insane’ looks I’ve gotten here — definitely valid. I guess I just really wanted to have something to show for it, because I’ve been doing music for, what did I say, 15 years of my life, so I didn’t want to go all the way through college without having anything to show for it. And I definitely wanted to do a psych thesis. So yeah, hmm, anything else … you should join frisbee. I’ve said in the past maybe my vibes are getting a bit too frisbee-based, but I think I’ve just embraced that now. So yes, join frisbee.